Whether fighting social injustice from their cab, chasing gangs or – occasionally – playing the villain, filmmakers have long been driven to capture truckers and their four-wheeled side kicks on the silver screen. We take a look at 10 of the best trucker films to see what they tell us about life behind the wheel.
1. Smokey and the Bandit, 1977
Bo “Bandit” Darville is hired by a wealthy Texan to deliver bootleg beer to his home in 24 hours. Driving the truck is Cledus “Snowman” Snow while Bo is at the wheel of a Trans Am that is acting as the blocker vehicle to distract attention from the truck and its illegal load. The journey there is uneventful, but Bo gets himself into trouble on the way back after picking up a woman who was to marry the local sheriff’s son leading to a high speed chase. Meanwhile Snowman in the Kenworth W900A is heading to Atlanta with a truck full of contraband beer. And like any good trucker, nothing is going to stop him delivery his cargo.
2. Convoy, 1978
This is perhaps the ultimate trucker movie that encapsulates life in a rig, where solitude exists alongside a wider trucker community spirit. While driving through the Arizona desert, Martin “Rubber Duck” Penwald (played by Kris Kristofferson) is tricked by crooked cop Sheriff Lyle “Cottonmouth” Wallace. This encounter is the latest in Rubber Duck and Cottonmouth’s antagonistic history and forces Rubber Duck on the run. He soon becomes a symbol of the ordinary working man versus the establishment, and as news of his unfair treatment at the hands of a bent copper spreads over the CB airwaves, truckers join a convoy in support that eventually grows to a mile-long.
3. Big Trouble in Little China, 1986
Jack Burton is an all-American trucker who likes to chat to other truckers on the CB radio on his long drives from the cab of his “Porkchop Express”, a 1985 Freightliner FLC-120. But his uneventful life suddenly takes a bumpy road when he gets dragged into a centuries-old mystical battle in San Francisco’s Chinatown after his friend’s fiancée Suzee Pai is kidnapped. After a wild chase in his truck through the streets of San Francisco, Jack discovers that the girl has been abducted by the ghost of a 3000-year-old warlord. Protected only by his wits and ever-present white vest, Jack fights off the spirits and gets the girl – giving him plenty to talk about over the CB radio.
4. Duel, 1971
Steven Spielberg’s first full-length film, Duel is thick with tension where the enemy is largely unseen – think Jaws with a truck. It’s 1971 and travelling salesman David Mann is being chased through the Californian desert by a 1955 Peterbilt 281 tanker. We see nothing of the driver apart from his feet and arm which adds to the sinister atmosphere that sees the mild mannered Weaver pitted against a mechanical enemy with seemingly no motive. The film was based on a short story by Richard Matheson who was inspired by a real-life experience in when he was tailgated by a trucker on his way home from a golfing match, one stereotype lorry drivers would like to park.
5. Maximum Overdrive, 1986
Based on Stephen King’s short story Trucks, the film was also directed by the king of horror. Soundtracked by AC/DC, Maximum Overdrive tells of a nightmare future where the machines – including some particularly ruthless trucks, rise up against the humans, mowing down anyone who gets in their way. Bill Robinson (played by Emilio Estevez) leads the fight back and destroys the deadly trunks with minds of their own with a convenient rocket.
6. White Line Fever, 1975
The 1970s was the heyday of trucker films and White Line Fever rode the trend with turbo charged gusto. Fresh off the plane from fighting in Vietnam, Carrol Jo buys a 1974 Ford WT9000 rig with a view to working at the same firm his late father. But CJ learns that the company’s gone rogue and is now dealing in illegal goods. Worse, the company has a stronghold in the town and the cops onside. But CJ is not content to let corruption win and sets out to fight the illegal stronghold, nearly sacrificing his life in a tense showdown for the greater trucker good.
7. Joyride, 2011
University student Lewis and his brother Fuller – who’s just been released on bail – are driving home in a 1971 Chrysler Newport. En route Fuller buys a CB radio and to amuse themselves on the long road trip play a prank over the radio on a trucker called Rusty Nail. Rusty Nail – perhaps unsurprisingly with a name like that – does not see the funny side and is soon on their tail, chasing them through the night with increasing menace. The moral of the tale? Never mess with the truckers’ best friend – the CB radio.
8. Over The Top, 1987
Sylvester Stallone and his mighty biceps star as Lincoln Hawk, a trucker on a mission to win back the love of the son he abandoned 10 years before and triumph at the World Arm Wrestling Championships. Dreaming of starting his own trucking business, he is hoping to arm wrestle his way to the grand prize – a $100,000, a custom semi-truck and the respect of his son, Michael. Lincoln and Michael have a long and bumpy road to travel as they attempt to patch things up especially as Michael’s grandfather is trying to sabotage their relationship. Will Lincoln get to swap his rusty old rig for a custom built model and ride off into the sunset as his own boss?
9. Black Dog, 1998
If Hollywood is to be believed, it’s the truck drivers fate to be forced into carrying illegal cargo. Patrick Swayze’s ex-con trucker Jack Crews is no exception. He’s just been released from prison for killing a motorist and passenger and has no license. He’s offered a wad of cash to drive a cargo of toilets from Atlanta to New Jersey, and, at the risk of flushing his future away, he reluctantly agrees. Naturally the road to Georgia isn’t smooth and he’s pursued by the FBI (who Crews eventually works with) and Meat Loaf, a bad guy who’s determined to hijack the load – which turns out not to be toilets, but illegal guns.
10. Big Rig, 2008
A world away from police chases, bootleg cargo and Chinese sorcerers, is Doug Pray’s documentary film highlighting the realities of life as a trucker. Initially the truck drivers he meets over the course of four two-week trips through 45 states, are suspicious of this stranger in their pack, but once they trust Pray, they are happy to talk about rising fuel costs, driving the American economy, balancing family life with anti-social hours, the solitude and the kinship of the greater trucker community.